Putin still most popular politician in Russia - Medvedev

In an interview with the heads of three major Russian television channels, President Medvedev explained why he chose not to Run for presidency in 2012 and what it takes to bring more changes to Russia’s politics.

Below is the full text of President Dmitry Medvedev’s interview with First Channel Television, Russia Channel and NTV Channel on September 30, 2011.

KONSTANTIN ERNST: Mr. President, last week, a major and long-awaited event happened in politics: at the United Russia convention, you suggested that Vladimir Putin should run for president. Many are wondering what your motives were. Your approval rating is high, and you are a young, energetic politician with a good reputation. What was the primary motive behind your decision? Usually, presidents seek re-election. You are a politician, and politicians are ambitious people. What was your ambition in making this decision?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: My biggest ambition is to be useful to my country and my people. This may sound a bit pretentious but it’s true. Unless you have this ambition, you shouldn’t go into politics. You should focus on something else instead of politics or government service.

As for my reasons, on the one hand they are obvious; on the other hand, there are always many questions about them. I’d like to stress that both for me and Vladimir Putin the top priority is to be of use to our homeland, our nation.

We both belong to the same political force. Both Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev were nominated for the presidency – first him, then me, under the current model of power – by the United Russia party. Vladimir Putin was No. 1 on the United Russia slate, and yours truly is this time. So we really represent the same political force. We belong to the same political force and our views are very close. Of course, we may be different on a personal level; each of us has his own habits. But our views are very close on most strategic issues – in fact, on all the strategic issues of how our country should develop – and on other issues as well.

So, sharing the same views, should we compete against each other? Should we argue and fight? I have read a few pieces by political analysts that basically say, “Why don’t they go into the political arena and vow to fight each to the end? Why don’t they have an open rivalry?”

But that’s not the way it happens anywhere in the world. People who represent the same political force always decide between themselves who will run for this or that office. In some countries, they use primaries for this purpose. We don’t have much experience with primaries in Russia, although we have seen positive examples. In some countries, the decision is made simply by at a party convention or by the leaders themselves.

Can you imagine Barack Obama competing with Hillary Clinton? You may remember that they both sought nomination. That would be impossible. They both belong to the Democratic Party, and their decision was based on who could get better results. And this was also how we made our decision.

Of course, it’s nice to know that people trust me as president and that my approval rating is quite high under current circumstances. But I also know that Prime Minister Putin undoubtedly remains the most popular politician in our country at this point and his rating is even higher. Somehow, people tend to forget about that. Those may be just practical considerations, but every politician should pay close attention to them, if he really wants to be useful to his country and not just fight against other people. In fact, this is exactly what people often want us to do. They want us to become enemies and enter an open confrontation on the political arena. At least that’s the kind of recommendation I hear from the opposition and from some political analysts.

Let me tell you: this is not going to happen. What we are after is a political result. We want to win the elections, both the parliamentary election in December and the presidential election in March, – not just to satisfy our ambitions. Every responsible person should have an ambition to serve their country. I strongly believe that.

OLEG DOBRODEYEV:Speaking of your plans for 2012, you’ve had quite a few interviews in recent months where you hinted that you did not rule out the possibility of running for office. Why was that? Did you genuinely feel this way at the time? Or you simply didn’t want to break the news of the decision you made together with Putin, ahead of time?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Let me tell you – and, of course, all our people – absolutely frankly: we are dealing with practical politics and practical governance. Everything may change in this life. It’s true we have long had an understanding on how to configure the power, should our people show us trust in 2011 and 2012. It’s true, and we said so at the party convention. But at the same time life could have made unexpected and paradoxical changes to our plans. What if the preferences of the voters change, for some reason? I must take this into account.

Vladimir Putin and myself are holding two top posts, that of president and prime minister, and we must basically be a back-up for each other, because we are ordinary people, after all. Therefore, when I said I did not rule out such a possibility, naturally, I was not cheating anyone. Life could have taken an unexpected turn. But we did have a certain understanding between us.

In fact, I believe that in any situation, even in the future, should we succeed in implementing our current plans, we should always think about the future and what we should do in various difficult situations that we can hardly foresee or predict in their totality. This is why I said what I said.

VLADIMIR KULISTIKOV:Mr. President, now a few words about the United Russia convention. It astounded me, first, by the huge number of participants.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: We are learning from our foreign colleagues.

VLADIMIR KULISTIKOV:Exactly! It looked foreign to me – with all the cameras, banners and flags. At the same time, the atmosphere was very warm, friendly and, I would even say, intimate. At round table meetings, participants spoke about things that were close to their hearts. Now and then, they would forget what to say, look in their papers and go on – even more eloquently. Then, to crown it all, two very respected figures appeared and said they had agreed on how to distribute two top jobs in the government between them. Many people watched this and said, “It has all been decided already. Why spend money on the elections? What’s the point of elections if everything has been decided?”

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: First of all, I agree that the atmosphere at the convention was very warm. I have attended many different events, and I assure you that you cannot fake it – no matter what some people say, no matter how much this convention may remind them of the [Communist Party] congresses of the past. The atmosphere of trust was indeed there – you’re right about that.

Now, about those ideas you mentioned. I consider them absolutely irresponsible, misleading and even provocative. What are you talking about? The election campaign has just started. Let’s ask ourselves a simple question: what if our people reject us – both Medvedev and Putin? What will happen to these decisions by the convention? These decisions are merely the party’s recommendation to vote for those people, that’s all.

The choice is made by the people, and these are not mere words; it’s absolutely true. Any politician and any political force may lose an election. We have seen this happen time and again, both in our country and abroad. Anything can happen. What do you mean, “everything has been determined”?

Let’s imagine for a second that we have reached an agreement with Gennady Zyuganov, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Sergey Mironov and others that they will not run, whereas we, the “big-time politicians,” will. That would have really been an imitation. But they will! They will take part in the elections, both in December and March. They will take part in the State Duma election, and they also have presidential ambitions.

Let the people decide who they should vote for, whose popularity is greater. Only our people can make a final decision by voting for a candidate or a political force or turning them down. This is what democracy is about.

KONSTANTIN ERNST:Mr. President, you are the only person at the top of the United Russia federal list. How much are you personally going to be involved in campaigning? Who else, or what else, will United Russia use for its campaign? And do you expect tough competition during this campaign?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Indeed, I am at the top of the United Russia list. The party asked me to do this, and it’s a serious choice for me. First of all, it was United Russia that nominated me for the presidency. Second, I have been working together with United Russia all these years, with the party supporting the president’s initiatives.

Therefore, United Russia is definitely closer to me out of all the political forces. It is a great responsibility for me as president that United Russia made this decision. I expect the party to win, and I expect our people to make their choice at the elections.

At the same time, let me remind you that I am still president. I have a lot of responsibilities, both domestically and internationally. Thus, naturally, I am not going to take a vacation, and I will not occupy myself with any special campaign activities.

People should evaluate the president and the government based on their work. If they see that things are going well, they will vote correspondingly. If they see that the leadership is doing something wrong, they will vote against it. This is what democracy is about.

Consequently, I will be performing my duties. At the same time, I am sure that there will be tough competition. Competition will be tough but, hopefully, proper – and we have the necessary legal mechanisms to ensure that.

OLEG DOBRODEYEV:Mr. President, I think my next question is of great interest to many political ethnographers.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Ethnographers?

OLEG DOBRODEYEV:Yes, ethnographers. There have been many speculations about this. Why did you announce your decision now, not after the State Duma election? We all know our country well. We all know how our bureaucrats always become stupefied when they learn about such decisions. Don’t you think that our entire administrative system, our entire bureaucracy, may freeze for a period of time?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: That would be very bad, because everybody should work like clockwork until the presidential term expires and the government resigns. At the same time, it’s true that such a decision should be announced at an appropriate time, otherwise bureaucrats may go crazy. That happens, too. I think we made this announcement not too early and not too late.

At the same time, we need to make sure that everybody is doing their job – diligently, responsibly, occupying themselves with administrative work rather than political intrigues. This applies to both the president of the Russian Federation, the cabinet and all the other government agencies.

VLADIMIR KULISTIKOV:Still, Mr. President, many people were bored. They felt like everything has been decided. But they were only bored for a few hours, until Aleksey Kudrin was sacked. His resignation was totally unexpected. Again, people say different things about this resignation. Some say he was out of line, and there obviously was an issue of discipline. At the same time, some say it was a subtle political move to sack a stingy finance minister who refused to give money to agricultural producers, milkmen, servicemen, etc., and appoint a new minister who would not be so stingy before the elections and would give everybody what they ask for. So how much of Kudrin’s resignation was a matter of discipline and how much of it was his differences with you? Did you really have serious differences with the finance minister?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Actually, I have made a public statement about this and made all the necessary comments. In fact, I did it practically live on air. But I don’t mind saying it again. From the legal perspective – and that’s the only perspective from which we can talk about those differences – all the decisions on government spending, including defense spending, the wages for military personnel, etc., have been made by the government and carry the signatures of all the key officials. All those decisions carry the signature of the former finance minister.

I think you should be forthcoming in such a situation: either you don’t agree with these expenditures because for some reason you think they are wrong, but then it’s obvious what you should do – or if you approve the expenditures, you don’t make any comments about it.

So, the situation with Mr. Kudrin is a matter of discipline in government service. That’s all there is to it. We don’t have a coalition government in Russia. We are a presidential republic, not a parliamentary one. Our government is the president’s government. It implements the president’s policies. If you don’t agree, you should step down. That’s the only way it can be. It’s a tough rule, but I’m very strong about it and I will insist on it in the future. And I am sure that whoever is the head of our state in the future, they will follow the same principles.

As for Mr. Kudrin, it seems to me that perhaps he stayed a bit too long in this job and was bored. In fact, he came to see me in February or March and said he was aware that it made no sense for him to work in the future government because he had been finance minister for a very long time. (Naturally, he knew nothing about our understanding with Mr. Putin and the recommendations we were going to give at the convention.) Thus, he did not have any illusions. That’s why his remarks amazed me. Anyway, the decision has been made. As for Aleksey Kudrin’s future, he is a good professional with a lot of experience, so he will find a good job and a way to be useful to the state.

KONSTANTIN ERNST: Mr. President, many people, both in Russia and abroad, consider you an advocate of liberalism. However, recent events seem to indicate that liberals in Russia are somewhat disorganized, especially after the recent situation with Mikhail Prokhorov. What happened to the Right Cause party, in your opinion, and is it possible to implement the Right Cause idea in Russia?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Personally, I think that, for a long time, Right Cause has been suffering from a lack of responsible leaders. After all, it is the leaders who help their parties achieve results. And the Right Cause has had a streak of bad luck with leaders. Of course, recent events weakened the party. I’d like to remind you that Dmitry Medvedev is at the top of another party’s list, so I am not going to comment on the situation in Right Cause and their problems. There is only one thing I can say – and this is also our party’s view – because, like I said at the party convention, our party is magnanimous. Our parliament should reflect the electoral preferences of all Russian people – left-wing, center, right-wing, conservative, democratic, etc. In other words, it should include all those who can influence people, all those for whom people vote, or would like to vote. A parliament is much more legitimate if it includes all those forces. That is my answer to your question.

VLADIMIR KULISTIKOV: Speaking of society, Mr. President, many believe the social base for a right-wing liberal party in Russia is still not sufficient, due to the lack of a fully-developed proprietary class, or a middle class, whatever you call it. But where that basis is definitely sufficient is the Internet. And I have to tell you, although you have probably noticed it yourself, that things such as the situation with Mikhail Prokhorov, which Mr. Ernst mentioned, or Aleksey Kudrin’s dismissal, or the United Russia convention – all of that didn’t go down well with the Russian blogosphere.

As an active Internet user, do you feel any pressure from the blogosphere? Have you replied to any of the comments posted to your account lately? Or would you like to reply to them right now?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: You know, if I literally felt the pressure, it would be very difficult for me to work as president. At the same time, you are right to say that I pay a lot of attention to the Internet. Now, to be precise, there have been different reactions to the United Russia convention, the difficult situation in Right Cause and the recent resignations. There are people who start saying, “That’s terrible, democracy is over!” And then there are people who cheer and say, “Finally! You should be even tougher on them.” The blogosphere reflects all the different attitudes and views that form public opinion. It’s a different matter that, for a number of natural reasons, the Internet has a larger share of younger users as compared to older people. Hence, what you see there is not an entirely accurate picture of public opinion.

I think the fact that the Internet, the blogosphere, the social networks react to politics is a good thing. It means there is vivid feedback to what we are doing. Reactions vary, but this difference of opinions is one of the elements of direct democracy, the modern, 21st-century democracy. Of course, Internet polls and their results are not legally binding for governments. Nor do they accurately reflect public opinion, because, as I would like to stress once again, you won’t find a lot of right-wingers hanging out on the websites of left-wing parties, and vice versa: people who share Communist ideas would hardly be regular readers of LiveJournal, for one, where the audience is more liberal-minded, more right-leaning. It’s great that there are all these different opinions. And I believe that the authorities should react to what’s going on in the blogosphere – without giving in to pressure, of course. The government should be up-to-date, and it should pay attention to opinions expressed, including those expressed via the Internet. It’s a must for any politician of any level in the world of today.

OLEG DOBRODEYEV: To follow up on Mr. Kulistikov’s question, Mr. President, have you noticed one alarming trend with our society lately; namely that the public has been turning its back on politics, turning its back on the government? There is a problem with upward social mobility, and the faces on TV do not change.

VLADIMIR KULISTIKOV:Ours, for example.

OLEG DOBRODEYEV:Yes, including ours.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Yours, sure. Not ours.

OLEG DOBRODEYEV:Already for a decade now. And no matter how successful some individual companies or managers could be, there is a distinct feeling that some people have been in their jobs for too long. Of course, I would not like us to follow the advice of Ivan the Terrible who used to take “personnel decisions” quite frequently. Still, what needs to be done for new strong individuals to appear in this country; because, obviously, such a demand does exist?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: First, let me say a few words about the weariness. I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot, maybe because I am one of those who, due to their official status, are often shown on TV and spoken about in other media. Mr. Dobrodeyev, you must remember how our people, myself included, perhaps you, too, although you’re a long-time media professional, used to watch news bulletins in the early 1990s? We were glued to the screens, particularly when, say, the sessions of the Congress of People’s Deputies were being held. Hours of political broadcasting overshadowed everything – any movies or TV series. I think it’s a clear sign of poor living standards. The better our life is, the less attention people will pay to that, because they are more-or-less happy with their life. However, they should not become indifferent. They should go to the polls and vote for this or that political force. This is the constitutional duty, if you will, of every citizen who is not indifferent to the destiny of their own country, their homeland.

So talking of people being weary and indifferent, let me stress once again – I don’t have such an impression. Sometimes they say our life has degenerated into uninterrupted entertainment; and that television is only entertaining. But what are the other options? 1993-style television? To be honest, I would not want it. Maybe there are some who want it – after all, our country is a democracy in this respect.

Now, what concerns the need for the new faces you were talking about. I am fully with you on this. It is not only about stagnation – stagnation is always dangerous and may lead to very bad consequences. What’s crucial is that those in power should eventually muster up enough strength to leave it to somebody else. Such changes should not happen abruptly, with everyone resigning at once, waving their hands in farewell, with Vladimir Putin and me saying “Good-bye! We’re off!” There must be continuity. We must know who succeeds us at the helm of the state. However, there must be a renewal, and a very serious one. I have been trying to make sure that this renewal is continuous.

In the past three years, as a result of my decisions, nearly a half of regional governors have been replaced. And those who left were not all of a retirement age. Those were very different people. Some had been appointed only a few years, even several months, before the decision that they should resign. This should be going on everywhere – among regional governors, in the police, in municipalities and, of course, at the level of federal government. A government doesn’t like shake-ups. I often receive messages from citizens with a demand like “Fire this minister immediately! Shame on you! There’s been a disaster but he is still in office!” We must realize that not everything goes wrong because of a minister. We do have quite a difficult situation in the industrial sector and our economy in general.

But there must be new faces in the government. Therefore, if it happens that our nation, the citizens of Russia entrust the United Russia Party to form the government, I mean if they vote for United Russia, if our citizens vote for our presidential candidate, and if I become in charge of forming a new government – it will be a totally-reshaped government, a government that will feature fresh faces. This is what I believe to be of paramount importance.

OLEG DOBRODEYEV:Thank you for your reply.

KONSTANTIN ERNST:Mr. Medvedev, how did your family respond to the latest events?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: You know, my family is used to all kinds of things, but they feel that if everything we are talking about comes true, if the elections take place in just that way and we get the mandate to run the country and the government, they will hardly be able to see me more often than they do now. And although it’s not something they are happy about, they continue to help me in every way.

KONSTANTIN ERNST: Mr. Medvedev, thank you for this interview. And although we have robbed some of the political commentators of the chance to put forward their theories, the potential voters seem to have been given answers to all the questions that were in the air.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I believe this is the most important mission of television.